SYDNEY (AP) — Salma Paralluelo could have been preparing for next year's Olympics if she'd decided to stick with track and not make the switch to soccer.
But she did pick soccer and the 19-year-old winger has been a super-sub in Spain's run to the Women's World Cup final. Spain plays England on Sunday in the first all-European final since 2003.
“We're over the moon to be through to the final," said Paralluelo, who was treated for what appeared to be cramps in Friday's training session.
“It's incomparable. It's so hard to get here and we managed to do so. And now we can dream big.”
Paralluelo has been one of the brightest young stars of the tournament and scored two crucial goals to help Spain inch closer to its first major trophy.
She scored the game-winning goal deep in extra time for a 2-1 victory over the Netherlands in the quarterfinals, then added La Roja's breakthrough goal in the 81st minute of the 2-1 semifinal victory over Sweden.
Both times she came off the bench and both times she earned Player of the Match honors. She also became the youngest player to score an extra-time goal in the World Cup.
“Salma is a player with an enormous potential. And she’s not reached her best yet,” Spain coach Jorge Vilda said. "She’s a very young player who has been training one year in football specifically, and the best of Salma we’ll see it in the future. Now she’s excellent, but in the future, it’s going to be much more.”
Paralluelo is among several young players who have emerged at the World Cup, including 18-year-old Colombia forward Linda Caicedo, 20-year-old Australian forward Mary Fowler, and 21-year-old forward Lauren James of England.
Japan's Hinata Miyazawa, 23, leads the Golden Boot race with five goals.
As a child growing up in Zaragoza, Spain, Paralluelo excelled at both soccer and track. She set under-20 records for Spain in the 400 meters and the 400 hurdles. She also competed in the 2019 European Indoor Championships.
At the same time, she was winning trophies for her country in soccer. She was on the Spanish squad that won the 2018 under-17 World Cup in Uruguay and 2022 under-20 World Cup in Costa Rica.
In her 2022 debut for the senior national team this past November, she scored a hat trick in a friendly against Argentina. She has eight goals in 14 total matches with the team.
Paralluelo went all-in on soccer in 2022 when she signed a contract with Spanish club Barcelona. In 29 total appearances with the team across all competitions in the 2022-23 season, she scored 15 goals.
After winning its fourth straight league title in Spain, Barcelona came from behind to beat Wolfsburg 3-2 in June to win the Champions League.
Nine players from Barcelona are on the Spanish national team. Two of their teammates — Lucy Bronze and Keira Walsh — play for England.
In the victory over Sweden, Paralluelo came in as a second-half substitute for Barcelona teammate and two-time Ballon d'Or winner Alexia Putellas, who has been working her way back from an ACL tear last year before the European Championships. In the quarterfinals, she subbed in for Alba Redondo.
Being a boost off the bench is something Paralluelo said she doesn't mind.
“We're a team,” she said. “Others have come off the bench with the same attitude — to give their all and win the match.”
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/fifa-womens-world-cup
Anne M. Peterson, The Associated Press